Tag Archives: Ian McShane

TELEVISION: Kings Brings The Story of David To Life In An Alternate Universe!

The story of David’s conquest of the giant, Goliath, is timeless – the little guy defeating the much bigger guy because he isn’t taken seriously [and with the hand of God to guide him]. Of course, the rest of the story isn’t as well remembered because it can’t be boiled down into three words like “David and Goliath.” Once you get past the archetypal underdog tale, though, you find a rich story about how David rises from being a kid with a slingshot, to becoming King David – warrior, philosopher, musician and ruler.

Media Savvy King

Kings [NBC, Sundays, 8/7C] takes the story of David and translates it into a vaguely science-fictional alternate universe setting where it can be told as a contemporary drama. The result is American television’s first sci-fi/Biblical soap opera. It begins with King Linus Benjamin [Ian McShane] dedicating the newly completed capitol city of Shiloh – the story of how he became aware that God wanted him to become king and build the city is important. Shortly thereafter, war breaks out between Gilboa and its neighbor, Gath.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Coraline – Still Your Best Bet at the Movies!

When it was announced that Henry Selick was developing Nail Gaiman’s wonderful novel Coraline for film, it was probably not something that registered with most moviegoers. If they recognized the name at all, it was most likely from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas – even Burton claims that all he contributed was the basic plot, lead character and a few hasty sketches. Selick did all the heavy lifting.

coraline

Coraline is a completely different story. Selick developed the film, both writing the screenplay and directing the film. Here, Selick’s genius becomes clear. He adds a character – the odd little boy named Wybie [voiced by Robert Bailey Jr.] – to add to the stakes, and provide a contrasting character for Coraline [Dakota Fanning]. He also makes a few other tweaks that give the film even more depth than that usually given by stop motion animation. Then he adds really excellent 3-D – not as a gimmick, though there are places where an action does pop toward the audience – but as a means of making Coraline’s unique world just that little bit more unsettling.

The story of Coraline is one of misunderstandings: Coraline’s parents [John Hodgman, Teri Hatcher] seem disconnected from her, disinterested – though they are really trying to make a deadline on a freelance job, producing a catalogue for a client; when Coraline finds her other parents, she really thinks they are genuinely interested in her – though she is merely a diversion for them [especially her Other Mother]; Coraline doesn’t understand Wybie, either, thinking him a pest when he’s really a very lonely boy who has no idea about how to make friends.

Her adventures in both worlds involve other minor players who contribute to the mood: Miss pink [Dawn French] and Miss Forcible [Jennifer Saunders] who appear to have been very naughty in their professional careers, and Mr. Bobinski [Ian McShane], who is an aging Russian acrobat who is trying to train mice as circus performers. These characters give the film world a little extra bite and reality.

Then there’s the cat [Keith David], who is the same in both worlds but can talk in the Other World. Gaiman does a smart-ass cat to perfection and Selick captures him just as well in the film [and doesn’t a good fantasy require a smart-ass cat?].

After taking in the boring for 113 minutes/exciting for 5 minutes so-called thriller, The International, it’s my firm recommendation that Coraline is the best film available for the smart movie buff this weekend, acing out the engaging Confessions of a Shopaholic by a nose.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Death Race: Baby You Can Drive My Car!

The original, Roger Corman production of Death Race 2000 was a high energy, in your face film that [sadly] predicted the reality TV thing. In its highly campy way, though, DR2K mixed in social commentary through the race’s rules [Hit a pedestrian? Add points. The pedestrian is an old lady? Bonus Points!]. The remake is a grittier, nastier piece of work that pits prison lifers against one another – and the last driver left alive wins [win five races and go free – in theory].

Koehler, Statham, McShane & Vargas

Jensen Ames [Jason Statham] is framed for the murder of his wife and finds himself on Terminal Island [think Alcatraz, 2015]. The warden [an exceptionally elegant Joan Allen] asks him if he will take over for a driver known only as Frankenstein. Poor Frankie died in the last race and she needs to keep the myth alive to keep up the ratings on the race’s internet subscription pay-per-view. Ames is given Frank’s pit crew, an oddball lot that includes Coach [Ian McShane], the pit chief who stayed on after his sentence was completed; Gunner [Jacob Vargas], a master mechanic, and Lists [Frederic Koehler], who seems to know more about everything than anyone else in the film.

Arrayed against Ames’ version of Frankenstein are nasties like Machine Gun Joe [Tyrese Gibson], Pachenko [Max Ryan] and Travis Colt [Justin Mader] – killers who treat their vehicles as weapons. Furthering the goonage is Jason Clarke as Warden Hennessy’s head guard, Ulrich. To balance the villains, Frank’s navigator is a gorgeous female convict named Case [Natalie Martinez], and she even gets to take part in the action a couple of times.

The big surprise about Death Race is that it is infinitely better than anything else director Paul W.S. Anderson has ever done. The writing [again by Anderson] is tight – though his attention to detail still needs a bit of work – and he stages some pretty impressive races. Even more impressive is that practically all the stunts and driving were done… well… practically.

True, the cast isn’t required to do much more than hit one or two notes apiece, but they hit those notes with the kind of enthusiasm that communicates itself onscreen. Although darker than the colorfully camp original, Anderson’s Death Race is not without its humor – some of it telegraphed but done with panache, and some of it sneakier than you might expect from the guy who gave us the Resident Evil and the Alien vs. Predator movies. And you won’t find many who can out cuss the elegant Warden Hennessy when things start to go wrong…

With a big budget and marketing plan, Death Race could, finally, vault Statham to actual action star status [and well past time]. It’s not the greatest action movie ever, but it does hit just the right spot in terms of vicious action, ham-fisted social commentary and general mayhem.

Final Grade: B-

MOVIE REVIEW: Kung Fu Panda: Panda Power? By Sheldon Wiebe

Pandas are perceived as being laid back, relaxed and just enjoying munching on bamboo shoots. Kinda like your fat, old uncle Kenny – only bigger and with fur. Casting a panda as a kung fu master is one of those contradictory images that just automatically provoke smiles and chuckles – if not hysterical laughter. Which is why Kung Fu Panda had to be more than just another animated movie. In order for it to work, the film would have to find a way to make us believe – in with excellent CGI – that Po [voiced by Jack Black], a poor panda working for his father in a noodle house, could make that leap to… wait for it… Dragon Warrior!

Po & Master Shifu

In anticipation of the evil snow leopard Tai Lung [Ian McShane] breaking out of the most secure prison in the country, Master Shifu [Dustin Hoffman] has trained the Furious Five – Masters Crane [David Cross], Mantis [Seth Rogen], Monkey [Jackie Chan], Tigress [Angelina Jolie] and Viper [Lucy Liu] – in hopes that one of them would be chosen to fulfill the prophecy of the Dragon Warrior and obtain the Dragon Scroll that would take them to an almost exalted level of martial arts mastery. Through a fluke involving fireworks and a chair, Po finds himself chosen to become the Dragon Warrior by Master Oogway [Randall Duk Kim] – and fierce lessons must be learned by all of them so that, when Master Oogway’s time comes, the Dragon warrior will be ready to face Tai Lung.

Kung Fu Panda is a small miracle in both character and animation development. The script, by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger [from a story by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris] packs as much character into the film as action [and there’s a lot of action!]. Watching Po and his father, Mr. Ping [James Hong] deal with the changes in Po’s life are fraught with genuine emotion; the disbelief of Shifu and the Furious Five combine to make things even harder for the poor Po. The animation of the martial arts sequences add to the depth of the film with their intricacy and clarity.

Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson have done a masterful job of matching voices to characters [Jolie and Liu especially, bring it – and Rogen, counter cast as the tiny Mantis gives his character a surprisingly supple quality] and staging both moments of frenzy and unexpected beauty [the passing of a key character]. Kung Fu Panda is a movie that might have been wholly summarized by its title, but instead is so much more. Thanks to the factors mentioned plus the unexpected range of Black as Po, this is a classic in waiting.

Final Grade: A